Halle Berry fights ageism as assassin in John Wick 3
Oscar winner, 52, says physically challenging role in John Wick: Chapter 3 makes statement
If you are a movie star and want a particular role, sometimes all you need to do is call the filmmaker and ask for it.
Halle Berry loves the John Wick movies released in 2014 and 2017 and actively pursued the part of assassin Sofia in the third instalment of the action thriller film franchise John Wick: Chapter 3, which opens here on May 16.
The 52-year-old US actress said in our interview at Four Seasons hotel in New York City: "I loved how real the action felt in the first movie. I looked forward to Chapter 2 as soon as I saw the first. When my manager told me that Chad (Stahelski, the director of all three films) was looking for a female assassin on par with John Wick, I knew I had to play the part. I reached out to Chad and really passionately expressed to him how much I wanted to do it. I actually told him I had to be in this movie and he really didn't have a choice."
Berry had been a gymnast as a young girl and physically fit all her life, so she felt up to the challenge of a demanding job.
She said: "I know that I am of this certain age, and I think it's really important that as women, we kick this ageism in the face. I'm so tired of being defined by a number and this was a great way for me to use my art form to make that statement."
In John Wick: Chapter 3, Keanu Reeves reprises the titular role of the super-assassin who is forced out of retirement after The High Table, the secretive global assassins organisation that sells hits to hitmen, strips him of all protection by declaring him 'incommunicado'.
There is a US$14 million (S$19 million) bounty on his head as every killer in the world wants to get him, and he is forced to call in favours as he runs all over the world to dodge them.
One of those favours is from Sofia, a woman from his past who owes him.
Why do you love the John Wick movies?
A broken, fractured man who is avenging the death of his dog that his dead wife gave him - that is stuff that women emotionally connect to. The fight scenes feel like you are watching a ballet, like something more elevated than just senseless killing. That is how I look at the John Wick series. I so desperately wanted to be a part of an action movie that challenged my body in a whole new way, where I would get to do what I saw Keanu doing.
What were the physical challenges of your training?
This was the hardest, most rigorous training process I have had for any role my entire career. I had to learn judo, aikido, gongfu. I had to go work with firearms, which I had never done before. I had to become a dog trainer. It was like a six-month deal for me - eight hours a day of fighting, firing range, and then I would end my day every day with two or three hours of dog training.
What was the dog training like?
A lot of time was required to spend with them and get to know them and them to get to know me. There were five dogs because even dogs have stunt doubles. Some dogs just had pretty faces and got to be in the shots where you just had to see a dog sitting next to me or snarling. And then the other dogs were the action dogs. They love to jump through cars. And then we had our biting dogs that had a propensity for male crotches (laughs).
What was it like working with Reeves?
I found Keanu to be a man of few words on screen and off. He is not a big talker but he talks with his action. What I loved most about working with him was watching his work ethic. I totally related to that. We are the first ones to arrive, we are the last ones to leave, we are always on time, we are always ready to do whatever is asked of us and try to give 100 per cent even through injury. Whatever happens, we do not quit. I had a partner who saw it how I saw it.
You have not worked much lately as you have two kids - your 11-year-old daughter and six-year-old son.
Motherhood is the single most important aspect of my life. Working, I have to do. I have to raise my children, so it is necessary. When they were really little, like for the last decade, I did not work as much because I did not have my children until I was 40. You do not wait until you are 40 to have children and then go off and leave them.
I was just being at home and being Mum and giving them the download kids need in the early years. Now that they are both in school, I realised, 'Okay, now I can get back to some of the things that I love, that make me happy, that are just for me', so that is why work is back on my plate again.
Are you glad you waited to have children?
Absolutely. I am a much better mother. If I had a child in my 20s, I would still be learning and growing. I did not know who the heck I was and I almost do now, but I am so happy I waited.
The writer is the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.